Who Cooks What, How, and for Whom? Gender, Racial, Ethnic, and Class Politics of Food in Asian Global Households
This article explores how the seemingly mundane practices of food preparation and consumption can become intersectional sites of gender, racial, ethnic and class politics in the contexts of global migration and household labour. It develops the idea of a “familial gastropolitics” (Vallianatos) by focusing on the experiences of Japanese mothers who have relocated to Hong Kong and Singapore and chosen to outsource housework to a female migrant domestic worker typically from a Southeast Asian country. How do these mothers reconcile their new role supervising a maid in a foreign environment with a traditional Japanese value system that ties notions of motherhood to the preparation of family meals? Analyses of original interview data as well as mom blog entries suggest, first, that many research participants adhere to the ideologies of Japanese motherhood by assigning to the maids only basic preparations before cooking (such as cutting up the ingredients) and the cleaning afterwards, both of which they still micro-manage. Disturbingly, several par-ticipants cited racial, ethnic, and class stereotypes of “them, foreign maids,” who could never acquire the cooking skills and knowledge of “us, Japanese madams,” when they described their experiences. The women seemingly drew on such stereotypes to sustain an ideal of Japanese foodways, such as obento (boxed lunch) making and other practices rooted in Japanese cultural nationalism and gender ideology. Simul-taneously, there was a shared understanding among them that managing the family’s foodways and running the household smoothly were the women’s job, freeing their husbands of household responsibilities and reinforcing the third-shift labour of the mothers. The analyses reveal that gendered divisions of labour are sustained in complex ways in tandem with global disparities and cultural nationalism in the most private sphere—home.
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